Introduction Realizing the lack of civic spaces in Pakistan in general and Islamabad in particular, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) has taken the initiative of launching a platform – the Civic Café. The basic idea behind the Civic Café is to strengthen the role of civil society through dialogue, and to provide space for discussion on various topics, building new relationships, and strengthening old ones.
SPO Civic Café held its seventh lecture ‘Biodiversity of Pakistan: Challenges in Conservation” led by Dr. Ejaz Ahmed, Deputy Director General, WWF Pakistan on May 21, 2010. The lecture coincided with biodiversity day celebrated throughout Pakistan.
Details of the event The lecture started with the introduction of theme by Zafar Zeeshan, Chief of Programme SPO. Commenting on the current state of environmental degradation in the world, he equated it with the fate of titanic whose passengers were oblivious of impending disaster. He said we are not aware of threats to the very survival of species on planet, because we do not have knowledge about the gravity of situation. We can only able to face the challenges of environmental disaster if we face the reality.
Speaking about the theme Dr. Ejaz referred to Hunza Lake, which has become threat because of sheer negligence. To introduce the theme he provided details about forms of life on our planet. Dr. Ejaz said that biodiversity played a crucial role in our life as the whole medicinal system was dependent on the plants, which are interlinked with the wider biological and environmental web. He provided an example of decline in productivity of crops in Kashmir after the earthquake destroyed bee farms. Bees were vital link in pollination process. With the decimation of bee colonies the very process of pollination ended. As a result, productivity declined.
Dr. Ejaz termed Pakistan a fortunate country for it is climatically diverse with different climates, more than thousand miles of coastal line and one of the highest mountains in the world. The diversity of climate has provided an ideal habitat to diverse species. Ejaz provided details of diverse species ranging from Blind Indus Dolphin, white head duck to black buck. He shared the information that the numbers of Blind Dolphin in Indus is increasing because of various initiatives. White head duck is a migratory bird but its number has drastically decreased because its habitat is being depleted of its food. He cited the example of black buck as a victim of negligence regarding conservation of species in Pakistan. This specie was found in large numbers in Pakistan. It was exported to the United State in 1964. They were domesticated in the ranches of Taxes. But gradually black buck disappeared from the land of Pakistan. Therefore, it has been imported from the United States now.
Ejaz Ahmed provided the figure of protected areas for species in Pakistan, which is nearly 300. Among these 23 are national parks, but condition of these parks is very bad as rules are not followed and implemented. During presentation he cited examples of the deteriorating condition of national parks in Pakistan. He identified lack of data, information and awareness as important factors that cause mismanagement of national parks.
In addition, population pressure compels local communities to exploit natural resources. One of the important factors is lack of community participation in the initiatives regarding conservation of biodiversity in Pakistan. This situation can be averted by making communities aware about the importance of biodiversity in maintaining equilibrium in environment. “Financial constraints and paucity of human resource are hurdles in the conservation of biodiversity in Pakistan’ Dr. Ejaz asserted.
Shedding light on the issues of conservation of biodiversity, Dr. Ejaz said that commercial logging and over exploitation of resources is the biggest threat environment and biodiversity in Pakistan. He gave example of Mangrove forest in the coastal belt, in which 8 species have disappeared. Same is the case with wild life in Pakistan. Some 200 years ago Rhino was available in Bahawalpur region. Lion roamed the land of Pakistan 500 years ago. Now these species disappeared from the face of our country. “The major obstacle in conservation of nature and biodiversity is the dearth of taxonomists.” Ejaz said. He referred to studies of climate change in which amphibians are taken as its indicators, but regretfully we did not have taxonomist and trained human resource to do so. We do not study the fish stock on our seas and issue license indiscriminately, which results in depletion of marine life in Pakistan.
Dr Ejaz laid great emphasis on treating development and conservation as interrelated activities. ‘We tend to separate development and conservation. In reality both are interlinked’ he said. He shared a success story of conservation and development in the practice of trophy hunting in Northern Pakistan. ‘When communities have material stack in conservation they adopt strategies that are conducive to development’ Ejaz stated. It is not local communities but exploiters who cause environmental degradation for their profit. Engagement of local people in conservation initiatives would help curbing exploitative elements in society.
Commenting on policy of conservation he was of the opinion that policies were there but there was no implementation. He said that economic evaluation was important for viable decisions. After the presentation participant raised different questions and shared their views. They were of the view that problem of degradation of environment stems from bad governance, which afflicts every institution in Pakistan. Absence of good governance is the major cause of degradation, for it afflicts other spheres of state and society in Pakistan. Participants laid great emphasis on raising awareness among local communities because they are the one who bear the brunt of environmental degradation. For that purpose media can be a useful medium but there is need to develop environmental journalism, which is lacking in media.